HALF of all calls to Blackburn with Darwen Council are going unanswered, bosses at the authority fear.

They made their shock find after launching a new call centre with the aim of ultimately ensuring 80 per cent of callers got the answers to their questions from the first person they spoke to, and weren't passed around from department to department.

But within days of launching the call centre - which began operating at the middle of last month as part of the bdirect project - officers realised something else: thousands of calls had been going unanswered every day.

Leader of the council's Lib Dem group, Councillor Paul Browne, today said he was shocked and disappointed at the findings.

The centre, which will eventually employ 80 people, is gradually taking on calls which previously were directed straight to departments.

The first to switch, the cleansing services hotline, was estimated to receive 60,000 calls a year. But early indications suggest the dedicated call centre staff will actually take 100,000 cleansing-related calls a year - meaning 40,000 have been going amiss.

Donna Hall, executive director of resources at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: "This would indicate that in the past, calls have gone unanswered.

"The big increase in the number of calls we are getting for cleansing suggests that many more people are getting through now.

"We have nothing to suggest there has been a sudden increase in calls for another reason."

Coun Browne said: "If it is the case that so many calls are going unanswered then I am shocked and I would hope that the officers in charge of this scheme get their act together.

"It is no good if people cannot get through to the town hall. I'm very disappointed and I will be asking questions about the matter this week."